Initial tests for diagnosing mesothelioma
Mesothelioma cancer usually takes decades to develop – but the symptoms often come on suddenly.
How will my doctor discover that I have mesothelioma?
See your doctor as soon as you develop any symptoms. Your doctor will note your medical history. Along with telling your doctor when your symptoms began, be sure to let your doctor know if you’ve been exposed to asbestos.
Depending upon your symptoms, your doctor will examine you by listening to your chest, perhaps checking your lung function, and checking your abdomen for swelling.
Your doctor will perform blood tests to check your white blood cell (WBC) count and your platelet count. White blood cells fight infection and platelets are blood cells that help the blood clot. Although these are not blood tests specifically for mesothelioma, an elevated (above normal) WBC or platelet count is a sign that something is wrong.
Researchers are continuing to look for specific substances in the blood that act as biomarkers for mesothelioma. Biomarkers are proteins found in the serum (the liquid part of the blood) that are specific to a certain disease. By using one or more biomarkers, a blood test can detect mesothelioma.
At least one new blood test for mesothelioma is before the FDA now. Fujirebio Diagnostics, Inc., of Malvern, PA, which already received approval to distribute its MESOMARK blood test in Europe and Australia, submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April 2005 to begin the approval process in the U.S. The test was reportedly developed by teams working at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle and at the University of Western Australia.
Osteopontin, a protein in the liquid part of the blood, is also being investigated as a biomarker for asbestos. In October 2005, The New England Journal of Medicine reported a study showing that the level of osteopontin is different in those who have been exposed to asbestos and have pleural mesothelioma than in those who have been exposed to asbestos but who do not have cancer.
You should ask if your doctor is familiar with these studies or other tests under investigation or approved by the FDA to detect mesothelioma.
Chest x-rays can show scarring of the lungs, masses in the chest, and areas of fluid accumulation. Based on a patient’s x-ray results, a doctor will usually order more sensitive tests.
CAT or CT scans
A computerized axial tomography (CAT or CT) scan produces a cross-sectional image of the parts of your body that your doctor wants to study, such as the chest and abdomen. An x-ray source rotates around your body sending data to a computer. The computer then analyzes the data and produces a series of images.
A CAT scan helps your doctor determine how large any tumors are, where they are in relation to the heart, lungs and diaphragm, if there is pleural thickening, and how much fluid there is. A CAT scan also helps your doctor determine what stage your cancer is in.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses a magnetic field linked to a computer to create an image of the internal structures of your body. Sometimes, an MRI can show whether a tumor has invaded the diaphragm or chest wall.
In a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, abnormal areas show up as bright spots. These bright spots may or may not be cancer, so not all doctors believe that these scans are helpful in trying to diagnose mesothelioma cancer. If you have mesothelioma cancer, a PET scan can show whether the cancer has spread outside the area of the body in which it originated (whether it has metastasized).
MRI, CAT and PET scans can give your doctor a lot of useful information. These scans cannot prove conclusively that you have mesothelioma. If your doctor suspects mesothelioma cancer from any of these scans, he or she will then order a biopsy.